Talk of the "Big One" has long been limited to thriller movies, but is it possible the California drought could lead to a devastating earthquake in 2014 or some time soon down the road?
In a related report by The Inquisitr, the San Francisco earthquake hit near American Canyon in Napa County at 3:20 am and was only about 40 miles northeast of the Bay area. The earthquake had one aftershock at about 6:30 am, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Fortunately, no deaths were reported, but various organizations predicted there may be strong aftershocks in the wake of the first earthquake.
Out of the tens of thousands of earthquakes measured last year, the southern portion of California is actually more likely to have a major disaster compared to other areas in the state. Los Angeles is built on top of a large sedimentary basin that amplifies the effects of earthquakes, and directs the oscillating waves of dirt toward downtown. In addition, if an offshore high magnitude California earthquake were to trigger a tsunami, residents would only have a 15 minute warning at best. This wave of destruction could wash away whole sections of the coast, destroy highways, and knock down bridges, costing $70 billion in damage based upon estimates by scientists.
But could the California drought increase the risk of a major disaster? Based upon a study published in Nature, geologists believe it's possible that a lack of water in the San Joaquin Valley is decreasing the weight on the San Andreas Fault, which has lead some to make predictions of more earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2007, a panel of experts estimated there was a 63 percent chance that the Bay area will experience another catastrophic earthquake in the next 23 years.
Even without the danger of a major California earthquake, the drought is already causing damage. Due to there being less water in the aquifer, the soil in the area is sinking, causing the land to drop about a foot a year. This is almost like an earthquake in slow motion, with damage to roads and other infrastructure requiring repairs throughout 2014. But in certain areas the opposite can occur, with whole regions raising higher.
Duncan Agnew, a geophysics professor at Scripps University who specializes in studying earthquakes, has been studying how the mountain regions have experienced a noticeable uplift, but he doesn't think the expanding land poses a danger.
"This will change the stress on faults, but by an amount that's really small," Agnew said. But the California drought has still been devastating in its own way since the western U.S. has suffered a loss of nearly 62 trillion gallons of water.
In the end, no one can accurately predict when the "Big One" might occur, but there is a feeling among some scientists that California is overdue for a major earthquake. It could be soon, or it could be many years down the road, but don't panic and keep a towel handy.